“What’s the matter, Raphaela? We’ll never finish on time if you keep interrupting!”
“Sorry Doc, we have an emergency. The Boss is coming down to the Lab. In five minutes.”
“Damn! How do you know?”
“Gabby called me. And she says the Boss is in a bad mood. Very. So we’d better be ready…”
“The usual sh…tuff! She thinks putting the screws on is the best way to meet deadlines. And the only result is putting us behind. Okay. Let’s go. And let’s try to keep it short.”
The Doc and Raphaela took the elevator down to the lab on floor minus 37. Waited for the Boss outside the Lab door.
“Raphaela! Stop scratching!”
“Sorry Doc. I’m just… jumpy. The Boss is going to chew our heads! And, you know, in the summer, it always itches, because… you know… they’re shedding?”
“I know, Rapha’, I know, we’ll fix it, I promise, as soon as we‘re done with this. But… you cannot show nervousness. She’d eat us alive. You know how She is. Anyway, nothing much to worry about, everything is under control. It’s just a matter of parrying her stupid questions and wrap this up. Smile!”
“Yes, Doc,” Raphaela said. “Will do. There she comes. I think.”
The elevator doors opened. The Boss burst out, dressed to kill in a power suit, dark blue. Gabby towed behind.
“Morning, Doc. Morning, Raphaela.”
“Morning, Ma’am.” The Doc said. (The Boss didn’t like to be called Boss). “Morning, Gabriela. How are you both? Such an honor Ma’am. But I wish you’d given us a bit of advance notice (warning). The Lab is a mess, we are very short of time…”
“Precisely, Doc, precisely.” The Boss said. “I’m very concerned about the timing! I haven’t seen much progress lately and the deadline is tonight, at 1200 AM. We can’t have any more delays!”
“Don’t worry Ma’am. We’re almost ready. Just a few last minute details. But everything is Okay. Peachy. Would you like to come in? You and Gabby have to put a lab coat on. Here, may I help you?”
“No thanks,” the Boss said. “I can manage. What else do I need?”
“Sterile slippers, Ma’am” Raphaela said.
“Good,” the Boss said. “Masks?”
“No Ma’am. That won’t be necessary. For now. Let’s go inside. After you.” The Doc opened the first of two doors designed to separate the Lab from possible outside contamination.
The last door to the lab opened. Techs were rushing to fix the last details, to meet the 12:00AM deadline. When they saw Who was coming inside, everybody froze.
“Morning, morning, every one!” the Boss said. “Don’t stop what you’re doing. Go on. Go on.”
The Lab was state of the art, virtual screens, tactile airborne keyboards, the works. Glass cages in the back held a variety of live animals. Two parallel slabs in the middle of the Lab. With two supine bodies covered by surgical sheets, leaving the head exposed. Eyes closed. Dead? No, asleep. One could see the slightest movement of chests lifting the sheets. Up. Down. Up. Down. With the Doc and the Boss leading the way, Raphaela and Gabriela behind, the four approached the two slabs. The Boss leaned on the first table, took a close look at the exposed head. Turned around to the other slab. The other three held their breath.
“Hmm. Interesting.” The Boss said.
The other three let out their breath.
“I like the detail of the clean faces. No hair or feathers. Hmmm. What about the rest of the body? Can you uncover them, Doc?”
“Clean is not just a detail, Ma’am. Look. Rapha, can you help me?”
Rapha and the Doc unveiled both bodies at the same time. Making the sheets fly away in an ample, somewhat theatrical movement.
“Oh.” The Boss said. “I see. How odd! Why are they practically naked? Bare skin. Hardly any hair on the body. Definitely no scales or feathers. Why is that, Doc?”
“It’s because of the gene combination Ma’am. I’m sure you remember (I sent you a memo months ago you haven’t read obviously) that we are selecting the best genes from all our product lines…”
“Doc,” the Boss interrupted, “you’ve told me the same thing before about the dicos…”
“Dinos, I know, I know, but that was entirely different. The gene pool we had then at our disposal was much more limited. Now that we have mammals, we have access to a much wider variety. And, selecting the best genes, a bit of this, a bit of that, we have achieved the best possible combination. This particular product has 62% pig, 17% rat, 14% chimp. The rest is spread, gene-wise.”
“62% pig? Refresh my memory, Doc, that’s the big fat pink one, large ears. Ugly, eats anything, any kind of garbage and is delicious to eat, right?”
“Yes Ma’am. The very same. Pigs have 62% genes in common with this new development.”
“They look very different. Now those?” the Boss said, pointing at the two bodies on the slabs, “ are they edible too?”
“No, no! Absolutely not. They´re too valuable. The production is extremely costly!” (Why did I say that? Put your foot in your mouth, Doc! She’s going to bitch on production costs!)
“Okay,” the Boss said. “Not edible. Naked. I mean, stark naked. I would have preferred feathers, but it’s all right. You know I never put my personal taste before strategy.”
“Of course not, Ma’am.” (Never? Right!) As a matter of fact we tried the feathers for better thermal protection but it didn’t come out too well. You know the feather problems we have with Raphaela, Gabriela and the other…”
Raphaela and Gabby stopped what they thought was discrete scratching and nodded in agreement.
“Never mind,” the Boss said pointing again at the slabs, “aren’t they gonna get cold? Without protection?”
“No. Not really. First of all because at the beginning we’ll release them in the warmest part of the park. Second, because we’ve had a great breakthrough: they have constant internal temperature, not at all like iguanas or reptiles. Remember all the problems we had with those?”
“Don’t even remind me, Doc, please. Okay, constant internal temperature. How much? How high is it?”
“172 on the Alazraki scale.”
“Wow! They’re hot!”
“And they’re hot in more than one sense!” Raphaela said with a laugh.
“Rapha,” the Boss said, “I don’t have time for jokes!”
“Sorry, Ma’am.” Raphaela bowed her head, pretending to look embarrassed, yet a little smile belied it.
The Boss started to walk slowly around the slabs. Checking every detail for the questions she was about to throw at the Doc. She fired her first shot:
“Let’s see, Doc. What’s their BBMI?”
(Oh shit! There she goes…) “The BBMI? You mean the Brain Body Mass Index? The highest we ever had. Way above any previous model. One specimen reached 184.”
“184? Very high indeed. Even dangerous wouldn’t you say, Doc?”
(She hasn’t got a clue as to how dangerous… Fortunately) “There’s a lot of variation in this model, on average, BBMI is at 112.” (And some, a bunch, don’t even reach 40…)
“Good, good!” the Boss said. “I’m more comfortable with a lower BBMI. Any male-female variation?”
“On average, females in this model have a Brain Body Mass Index greater than males by a factor of 4.14159 and change.”
“One plus Pi! Funny. We can’t get around that one right? Good, it’s only logical, very logical that females should score better on BBMI.”
“Yes Ma’am. Very logical. It will give the females a significant advantage. (Once the males stop beating the shit out of the females… In 99,950 years or something…)
The Boss looked at the two sleeping bodies. Threw another comment:
“I expected them bigger, taller? They’re kinda short, aren’t they?”
“Depends on the food, Ma’am. And again, there is a very large variance in this model. Tall, short, skinny, fat…”
“Okay,” the Boss said. “Why don’t they have wings?”
“We had agreed, Ma’am, confirmed in a memo I sent you seven months ago (Patience, patience…) that the wings were going to be exclusive of…”
“I know, I remember your memo. I do read your memos, Doc! (Not all of them. Doc sends ten, twenty memos a day!). Okay. Why don’t you give me a quick overview, the executive summary?”
“With pleasure, Bo… Ma’am. If truth be told, I believe this is our most elaborate product so far. They have the greatest cognitive ability, they’re analytical, verbalize well.”
“They do have a large head,” the Boss said.
“They socialize. In group tests, they started putting rules.”
“Rules?? Oh! We have to check with Legal, we can’t allow them to put their own rules!”
“Legal is already working on it, Ma’am.” Gabby said, speaking for the first time. “Right, Doc?”
“Yes. Thank you Gabby,” the Doc said. “No worry Ma’am. Legal is looking into it. Now, we achieved all that by a combination of two factors, the hand, which allows them to carry things, and, very important, the erect posture that frees the hands. For instance, it allows the females to walk about and carry their babies.”
“Babies? That’s a new term. What’s it mean?”
“Cubs, litter. Carrying the babies creates a very strong bond between the mother and her babies, I mean cubs.”
“You should see the babies, Bo…Ma’am,” Raphaela said.” They’re so cute!”
“I don’t really know why we need that but, okay. What else with those hands of yours, Doc, I mean those hands of theirs?”
“They can do just about anything with their hands (and with that brain): produce objects, for instance…”
“That right?” said the Boss. “Simple objects, I imagine?”
“Yes! Yes! Of course. Simple objects.” (Only at the beginning, my dear) “Now, going back to the erect posture, meaning they only use their hind legs to walk, that has another consequence.”
“Which is?” the Boss asked.
“Puts the head on top of the spine, in unstable equilibrium, like a pencil standing on its tip?”
“I know what an unstable equilibrium is, Doc.” The Boss said. “It’s like… a definition of everything, the universe can be described that way. Totally unstable.”
“Right,” said the Doc, “so the equilibrium is unstable but it still is an equilibrium. To go back to the example of the pencil standing on its tip, it takes very little force to keep it that way. The head perched on top of the spine requires only a small force to stay that way, which reduces the size of the muscles necessary to hold the head. Remember the gorillas?”
“Sure. Big, Screamy things. Kinda nice though. That was a half failure. Didn’t give the expected results…”
“Exactly, Ma’am. Problem with the gorillas is that they walk on all fours, and they have a huge head.”
“That was the way we designed them,” the Boss said. “Go back to the specs.”
“Indeed, but on all fours, in order to lift this huge head and see where they’re going, gorillas need very large muscles in their neck to lift their big head, and those muscles have to fasten on the skull on what is called the sagittal crest, at the back of the head, as we will show you. Rapha?”
“Yes, Doc. On it!”
Raphaela drew a square in the air. A virtual screen appeared. A few quick moves, finding the files. A gorilla head appeared first. Then a gorilla skull. Raphaela turned the skull around, showing the Boss and Gabby the sagittal crest at the back of the skull. The Boss tapped her foot and said:
“Okay. Got it. So what?”
Raphaela went on: “We’re looking at the sagittal crest at the back of an adult gorilla skull. This crest makes the back of the skull close too fast during growth. If we compare the development of baby gorillas with the babies of those two…” She pointed at the two specimens lying on the slabs, “development of the skull and brain are very similar in the two prduct lines until the first two years, more or less. Now inthe new model, with the erect posture, the head on top of the spine, which eliminates the need for a sagital crest, the skull doesn’t close so fast and allows the brain inside to grow much more than in gorillas and for many more years. And that is why we reach a BBMI of 184. Max.” (I hope it’s max.. If they get higher we’re in trouble.)
“Thank you Rapha.” The Boss said. Turning back to the Doc:
“In their case we call it pregnancy. A new term. Ehhh, nine months, Ma’am.”
“Nine months?!!!!” The Boss practically screamed. “This is crazy! We don’t have the time! Deadline is today! Are you out of your mind, Doc?”
“Don’t worry, Ma’am. We’ve been producing in speed-up mode for weeks now. I wanted this to be a surprise.” (Plus I got all the memos…)
“Surprise, my… foot! More like a Fait accompli. But I don’t have much choice do I? Okay, let’s move on. Longevity? Lifespan?”
“At the beginning, 30-35 tops. In later stages of model development, proper food, the right conditions (which they will have to create) they should be able to reach 150-170 years, right Raphaela?”
“Yes, Doc,” Raphaela said. “168 years on average with a standard deviation of…”
“Okay. Go it,” the Boss cut in. “Even 168 is very, very short. A blink of the eyes. I’m not sure it justifies the enormous investment. It would seem like… a waste of this model.”
The Boss went back to circling around the slabs. The other three held their breath again.
“Nice shoulders, make like a triangle with the waist. I like it. It’s a reference to the corporate logo, I imagine? Just upside down. Good legs and thighs. Especially the male… Two legs, two arms, two hands… They’re lefties, of course?”
“No Ma’am,” said the Doc. “They’re right-handed. Can’t correct it. Something to do with the way the DNA double helix rotates. Only a minority are left-handed.”
“They’re kinda upside down aren’t they? Okay… No wings but well proportioned. I like the overall design. Shame about the feathers, but what can’t be, can’t be. What’s that, Doc?” The Boss was pointing at the female’s breasts.
“Ah! I’m glad you asked, Ma’am! That’s a great breakthrough. They’re milk reserves for the babies, the cubs. That’s where they feed after they’re born. At the beginning… For a while… (Two years. Please! Please! Don’t ask…)
“How long until they reach maturity?”
“Reproductive maturity? Depends on the individual unit, between 10-12 and 15 years old. (Emotional maturity never. But I’m not telling Her).
“Twelve years? It’s a bit long given the short life span, but it should create those social bonds you’ve mentioned. That’s what we’re looking for. Good interaction. Those… those bags on the female chest, what do you call them?”
“Breasts, Ma’am” (And a variety of other names, too. ‘They’ are quite creative. Especially the males. On that topic.) The Doc went on, “Now in addition to feeding the cubs, which of course is not all the time, the breasts also have other functions. Esthetic for one. Some males develop quite a fixation on those… bags.”
“Interesting.” The Boss said. “Can I touch?”
“Yes of course. But with gloves, Ma’am!”
“Why gloves?” The Boss asked. “I’m not going to contaminate them, am I?”
“No Ma’am, it’s the other way around. They’re full of germs. (I don’t know how they can survive with such a collection inside) and some of those germs are pretty severe. Gloves are better for your security. Here: take those.”
The Boss touched the female’s right breast gingerly. Prodding. Then stroked gently.
“Hmmm! Soft skin. Nice. A shame the feather business, but the sensation with the naked skin is very soft. Those bags are funny.”
“As a matter of fact,” said the Doc, “Raphaela asked me to run an experiment on her. Breast implants.”
“Rapha!” the Boss said, “What kind of a nonsense is this?”
“Sorry Ma’am,” Raphaela said, bowing her head again. “I thought it could be worthwhile… To understand the new model better. Possibly help for our Com.”
“Oh! Well! If it helps Communication! I guess it’s all right.”
Another walk around the slabs. The other three looked discretely at the clock on the wall, thinking of the 12:00 deadline.
“They’re kinda cute,” the Boss said, “face looks good. I like the detail of the eyebrows and lashes. Yes, Gabby?”
“Can I try the eyebrows and lashes, Ma’am?” Gabby asked. “I’m sure it would help a great deal in understanding… you know… for Communication?”
“Of course, of course, dear,” the Boss said. “Very good idea, Gabby.”
The Doc and Raphaela stared at Gabriela, thinking Teacher’s pet. Gabby pulled her tongue out from behind the Boss’s back. Winked. The Boss went on:
“Their eyes are closed, right now. I understand they’re sleeping. Sedated? But why are the eyes moving fast under the eyelids?”
“It’s called REM, Ma’am,” The Doc said. “You’re right about sedation.” (Short of strapping them to the table, it’s the next best way to control them in a closed environment). We keep them asleep to speed up their development. (Also safer for everybody) REM means Rapid Eye Movement. It indicates the subjects are currently dreaming.”
“Dreaming?” the Boss said, impressed. “That sophisticated, right?”
“Yes, Ma’am. They are.” The Doc said. (You have no idea, Sweetie)
The Boss carried on her examination. “I get the absence of hair, feathers, whatever. The right-handedness, no wings. From what I can see they have no claws either. What do you call that, Doc? At the tip of their fingers?”
“Nails, Ma’am. Those are remnants of claws. Nothing relevant.” (And I don’t know what they will do as the nails grow, until the time they invent nail-cutters.)
“Now, why do they have hair on the head, if the rest of the body is… bare skin? Not consistent to me.”
(Just another stupid question!) “Very good question Ma’am. The hair on the head is for brain protection, below the skull. We had to thin out the skull bones to allow for more brain growth, add to that the erect posture, as a result the head and the brain below the skull are directly exposed to the sun. That’s why we left the hair on top of the head. To protect the brain. Below the skull.” (The problem is that the hair grows and grows, couldn’t do anything about it, and I haven’t got a clue how they’re gonna cut it at the beginning. Neither will I tell the Bitch that the males grow a beard at puberty and will have to wait until they invent razors, or at least knives to shave.. She’d kill me!)
“Okay, Doc.” The Boss said. “You told me gestation or pregnancy or whatever, lasts nine months, and then the female lays her eggs?”
(Another evidence that she doesn’t read my memos… Smile, smile…) “No Ma’am, They’re mammals (hence the breasts…) the baby, or the cub if you prefer, develops inside the female.”
“For nine months?! Inside?” the Boss said. “How tedious. Anyway, doesn’t matter. Another thing, Doc. You told me they verbalize well. How well?”
“Very well, Ma’am. They verbalize very well. Will be perfect for prayers.”
“Great! Just great. That’s a plus, because all previous models have been ungrateful bastards!”
The Boss circled around the slabs again. Once. Twice. Three times. She stopped. Stood there. Thinking. Looking at the bodies. After endless seconds, She said:
“All right. Considering the very tight deadlines, this model is acceptable. But this business of their having no hair to speak off, or no feathers… We can’t have that. We have to dress ’em up.”
“Dress them up, Ma’am?” (Okay. We’ll do it. Or rather, let them do it…)
“I’ll put Marketing in charge,” the Boss said. “Gabby: make a note to Marketing, please.”
“Marketing?” The Doc said. “Mikaela? Great idea, Ma’am! (Let the lazy bitch of Mikaela work her ass off for a change!)
The Boss was already charging towards the Lab door. She stopped. Turned around.
“One last question, Doc? What about the color? Isn’t it it a bit dark? And the hair? I mean, it’s very curly, almost kinky? Like it’s stuck to the skull?”
“Very good point, Ma’am. I’m glad you raised it. Remember this is the first model. Comes in one color only: black. Of course there can be variations, from dark black to light black.”
“Light black?! Come on, Doc. There’s no such thing as light black!”
“Yes there is, with a bit more time I could show you light black and you would see what I mean. For the time being and considering the very tight schedule (worse with the hour we just lost…) we’ve had to limit ourselves strictly to one color. Black or black. This model is black with kinky hair. We will later launch a large number of line extensions with brown, yellow, even almost white, pink skin. A whole range.”
“Why aren’t you considering green? Blue? Red?”
“Technically we can’t do it at the moment. But… besides the variations in skin color, we will soon be able to launch a whole range of variants in hair color and hair style. From what we have here now: kinky, almost impossible to comb (Sh…why did I say that?) to wavy and totally straight. From black as now, down to brown, red, blonde and bleach blonde. Almost white.” (Don’t even think about white hair or hair turning white with age, she’ll ask.)
“Interesting,” the Boss said. “Lots of market potential there. Can you do blue?”
“Can’t do it on the hair, Ma’am. But… in a short while we’ll have eyes of almost all colors, even blue and green!”
“Fascinating… In how much time can you have eyes of any color, Doc?”
“For the blue eyes, which will take us the longest? Give or take, about 100,000 years.”
“Tomorrow in other words… Great! Thank you Doc. Thank you Raphaela. I think some details need a bit of fixing, but I like the preliminary result. Doc, send me a memo before 12:00 to confirm the e-fec-tive launch.”
“Of course, Ma’am. (That memo you’re gonna read, right?) Thank you for your visit.”
“You’re welcome Doc. Chao everybody! Let’s go, Gabby”. Lowering her voice: “This is going to be a major hit! We’re already sold out for the next millennium.!”
And the Boss left, Gabby behind her, waving good-bye with a wink. Silence fell over the Lab. Broken only by the sound of the air everybody let out.
Raphaela lifted her left hand in the air, making quick circles to indicate to all technicians to get back to work instead of pretending not to be listening:
“Let’s get moving guys! We’re very short on time! Go! Go! Run!”
What is life? A frenzy.
What is life? An illusion,
A shadow, a fiction.
And the greatest good is small,
As all life is a dream,
And dreams, dreams are.
(Calderón de la Barca, 1600-1681)
Raphaela and the Doc let a few minutes go by. Just to make sure the Boss does not make a surprise come-back. They leave the Lab in silence. Board the elevator. Looking at the roof. At the floor. At the roof again. When they get back to the Doc’s office, thirty-seven floors above, Raphaela asks:
“Doc? Why didn’t you tell the Boss?”
“Doc? Answer me! Answer me, Azra!”
Azraela, the Doc, does not answer. She takes off her lab coat, sighs and sits down heavily in her chair thinking about the very little time they have left. She takes off the band that ties her long blue hair. She bends down, her head between her knees, shakes her hair, combs it with her fingers. She sighs once more, worn out, and asks Raphaela:
“Tell Her what, Rapha?”
“Azraela! Don’t pretend you don’t know! You didn’t tell Her that… that…!”
“That what, Rapha?” Says Azraela with a tight smile.
“That They are Conscious! Conscious! When she finds out…”
“She’ll kill us, or worse. I know…”
“But that’s very serious, Azraela!”
Azraela stretches a long finger, extends a retractable claw, absent-mindedly scratches the feathers on her left wing. Smoothes them and says:
“Look, Rapha. I’m not so worried that They should be conscious. By the time the Boss realizes it… in what? Ninety thousand? A hundred thousand years? It will be too late by then. She wanted the King of Creation, didn’t She? She’s got it! And more! Hopefully by the time She does notice, we’ll be back to being just the Messengers.”
“But, Azra,” Raphaela insists, “don’t you remember when we woke the first one up?”
“Of course, I remember.”
“What did he say, the minute he woke up?” Raphaela asks.
“He screamed: Who are you?!!!! I remember perfectly,” Azraela says laughing.
“And then?” Raphaela asks. “What happened? And don’t pretend memory loss, Azra!”
“You told him, more or less who we were…” the Doc says with another smile.
“But then, my dear Doc, you shot back at him, and asked him: who are you?”
“That was fun, wasn’t it?” Azraela says. “But even funnier was his reaction to the question, no? You could see that he was thinking at the speed of light, looking for an answer he obviously didn’t have and he said…”
“He shouted: I am! I am… Me!” Raphaela goes on: “They’re Conscious. As you know, ‘Me’ is the first of the six stages of Consciousness.”
“Yeah. Yeah.” Azraela makes a dismissive gesture. “And after saying I am me, what did he do?”
“He attacked us! You had to sedate him.”
“Hey Rapha? You can’t deny it was fun!”
Azraela goes back to scratching her feathers. The other wing this time.
“I gotta do something about this. Once the launch is done tonight, I can probably fix the itching in a couple of days before we all go on holiday. Anyway… tonight is the origin of the world. And after that, we’ll probably be fired!”
“Or worse, demoted,” Raphaela says.
“Yeah,” Azraela laughs. “demoted would be worse! Back to being the Messengers. Whatever. Right now I’m so tired I don’t care! Look, Rapha. They’re conscious all right, very smart, at least some of them. They have Zero emotional control, They’re veeery aggressive. Question everything. But that’s what the Bitch wanted. She got what she asked for. Doesn’t bother me.”
“So, Azra, if consciouness doesn’t, what is it that bothers you?” Raphaela asks. “’Cause something bothers you, right?”
“Think, Raphaela. What else could have me worried?”
Raphaela stops to think for a moment. “Okay, proceeding by elimination. Not because they laugh… or cry. Though they’re the only ones we’ve had so far…”
“No. It is unique. But nothing to be concerned about.” Azraela says.
“They do. Quite nicely. And they sing!” Azraela says. “Such songs!”
“That is also unique!” Raphaela says. “Birds can sing, but always the same tune. Remember the subject who tried to write music, and got very frustrated because he didn’t have the tools?”
“The Singing is important. You know they will do a lot of things with that. It is only borderline threatening. I think we can manage. Again, going back to your initial argument, I am not so concerned about their level of consciousness. What bothers me is…”
Azraela pauses, as if unsure of what to say. Raphaela presses on: “What worries you is… What? Come on, Azra, spill it out!”
“What worries me is that they dream.” Azraela says.
“That all?” Raphaela is taken aback. “So what? A variety of models dream. Dogs for instance. Actually funny the way dogs twitch when they dream they’re running after a rabbit! Remember when we tracked and visualized their dreams? So, the new model, They dream. In a far more elaborate way than dogs, Okay. What’s the big deal? I don’t see how it can be a problem.”
Azraela, the Doc, sighs again. “The others, most of the others, dream. I agree, Raphaela. But… there is one tiny difference, and that’s where the risk is. All the potential risk. For Them, and for us. All the others dream when they’re asleep. Only when they’re asleep! Only then! And that’s fine. It’s controllable. But Those! Those guys! They dream when they’re awake! Awake, Raphaela! Not just at night, not just when They’re sleeping. They dream day and night! Whenever! They dream all the time. They have no limit!
The end? No, only the beginning…
Text © Brian Martin-Onraet and Equinoxio.
All illustrations © and courtesy my very dear friend Lorne Dann.
Author’s note: this tale came fleeting to my mind as a stand-alone story. Some time later, as I was writing Foglines, I realized, it was only a preamble. To go on to Foglines, follow this link: